Florian, Curtis bring in overall NAC titles
LAKE PLACID — Austin Florian and Kelly Curtis each took home overall North American Cup skeleton titles after combining for two golds and two silvers in the tour finale in Lake Placid. Team USA dominated the podium, taking two medals in each of the four races, led by Florian, Curtis, Kristen Hurley and Andrew Blaser, all of whom medaled twice.
Curtis, who is in her first season competing internationally, collected five medals over the course of the eight-race tour.
“I’m pretty excited, given that I wasn’t in any races last year,” she said. “To come out and win my first international title is a huge honor for me.”
Florian competed on the NAC last year, and found his groove this season, medaling six times to run away with the overall title.
Meanwhile, Blaser and Hurley took second and third overall, respectively, on the tour. A former University of Idaho track athlete, Blaser is in his third year on the NAC, and this is his first overall podium.
“I think this year saw a big shift in my attitude, which went from ‘get down the track’ to ‘get down the track and win,'” Blaser said. “In team trials here I was in last place, and coming back here was a big redemption moment for me. I just didn’t want to throw away my shot, and I’m really excited with how it turned out.”
Hurley competed on the USA Bobsled National Team as a push athlete before switching to skeleton. This is her first year on any skeleton circuit.
“I’m super grateful to have my first win ever for skeleton after switching over,” Hurley said. “I’m really thankful for my teammates for creating a really positive race environment this week and to my coach, Lauri Bausch, and to Orvie Garrett for helping me out during the first half.”
Florian kicked off the week with a dominating win in the opening men’s skeleton race. His 1:52.56 combined downtime beat out silver medalist Joseph Cecchini of Italy by 1.24 seconds, and Florian also pushed the fastest and second-fastest starts of each heat, 4.83 and 4.90 seconds, respectively. Blaser sat in second after the first heat, but fell back with the third-fastest time of the second run, finishing with a combined time of 1:54.22.
Rookies Chris Strup and Dan Barefoot finished 11th and 12th for their best results of the season thus far. Strup’s 4.86 and 4.84 start times alternated with Florian’s for the second and first fastest of each heat.
Curtis and Hurley took gold and silver, respectively, to open women’s skeleton competition. After sitting in fourth place between heats, Curtis threw down the fastest run of the second heat to jump up to first. Her 1:57.02 combined downtime topped Hurley by just 0.08 seconds as the teammates battled it out for the victory. Simidele Adeagbo of Nigeria took third in 1:57.24.
Meanwhile, rookie Michelle Toukan posted the best finish of her career, taking fourth place, while Mystique Ro finished sixth.
The second men’s skeleton race saw a rain-shortened, one-heat competition, and two more medals for the U.S. Florian’s 58.09-second downtime was second only to Cecchini’s 57.93-second run. Blaser finished in 58.21 for his second consecutive bronze medal.
“I was really happy with the way this entire season went,” Blaser said. “Lake Placid is a track that I have historically struggled on, so to come out and get two bronzes was really exciting. I’m really happy for Austin too, we just represented Team USA the best we could all year.”
Barefoot was Team USA’s next-best finisher, recording a season-best seventh place result with a time of 58.62. Strup was 10th in 59.29.
Hurley won her first gold medal as a skeleton athlete in the final women’s skeleton NAC race of the 2017-2018 season, posting a downtime of 59.54 seconds in the one-heat race. Curtis took the silver medal, clocking a 5.46 start en route to a 59.84-second run. Adeagbo took her second consecutive bronze, crossing the finish line in 59.88.
Toukan once again finished just outside of the medals, taking fourth in 1:00.23, while Nikia Squire took seventh in her first-ever international race, clocking a downtime of 1:01.37.
NAC racing continues in Lake Placid this weekend with the women’s bobsled, two-man bobsled and four-man bobsled events. This weekend marks the final bobsled and skeleton competitions before the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team is announced.